ROME (AP) — Pope Francis cleared his schedule Friday to undergo medical checks on his right knee, as his strained ligaments have made walking, standing and getting up from his chair increasingly difficult and painful.
Francis’ mobility has been greatly curtailed of late, with his already pronounced limp from sciatica seemingly aggravated. The 85-year-old pope had to bow out of celebrating the Easter Vigil last weekend, struggled through Easter Sunday Mass and now frequently walks with a shuffle and the assistance of an aide.
The Vatican spokesman said Friday that Francis was undergoing medical checks within the city state, not at an external hospital.
Francis has had to cancel several appointments this year due to the ligament strain. After his recent visit to Malta, which saw him struggling to get out of his chair on several occasions, Francis said he thought it would get better.
“My health is a bit capricious,” he told reporters April 3 en route home from Valletta. “I have this problem with my knee which makes problems of mobility and walking. It’s a bit painful. But it’s getting better. At least I can move.”
He revealed that a few weeks prior, he couldn’t walk — an apparent reference to the rest ordered up by his doctors that forced the cancellation of a trip to Florence and Francis’ participation in an Ash Wednesday procession.
“We’ll see if I go back (to that),” he said. “There’s some doubt because at this age, you don’t know how it’ll end up. We’ll hope it turns out OK.”
Francis was hospitalized for 10 days last July to have 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his large colon removed. He has said he has fully recovered. He also has long undergone regular sessions of physiotherapy to ease the sciatica nerve pain.
The pope has a busy few months of scheduled travel coming up, which will surely test his health, mobility and endurance: The Lebanese presidency has announced he will visit in mid-June; the Vatican has confirmed a July 2-7 trip to Congo and South Sudan; and Francis himself has said he hopes to travel to Canada in late July to deliver an in-person apology to Indigenous peoples for the Catholic Church’s role in abuses at residential schools.
There had also been media reports that Francis would meet with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, in Jerusalem in June, presumably as an added-on leg to the Lebanon trip. But in an interview published Friday with Argentine daily La Nacion, Francis said the Vatican had suspended plans for the meeting. Kirill has seemingly endorsed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “metaphysical” battle against the West.
“Our diplomacy understood that a meeting between us at this time could create a lot of confusion,” Francis was quoted as saying.
Francis also dampened suggestions he might travel to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, saying he wouldn’t do anything that could complicate the greater good of ending the war or at least a creating a truce or humanitarian corridors. “What good would it do for the pope to go to Kyiv if the war continues the following day?” he asked.